Student Profile: Christina Aubert: Public Health as Community Service

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University of Nevada, Reno graduates at ceremony wearing cap and gownChristina Aubert was volunteering at a soup kitchen in a Texas college town when she had an insight that would change her ambitions and her studies. Hospitals and clinics weren’t the only places where she could pursue a career helping people stay healthy. She could do it in her community.

The soup kitchen was part of a larger nonprofit agency that offered everything from showers and clothing to assistance with job placement and housing. The lesson for Aubert was that her work could impact the well-being of many people at once.

“They were able to help people on a larger scale than just providing food for them,” she says. “In the hospital, you’re one-on-one. When you’re in the community, you’re helping an entire population.”

Aubert knew she had found her calling: public health. It would lead her to the online Master of Public Health (MPH) in Public Health Practice program at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Although the school was halfway across the country, the online format allowed her to pursue her degree while staying close to family and friends in northeast Texas. It would also lead her to her first public health job, serving a nearby community.

Raised Around Science

Growing up in the small town of Wills Point, Texas, Aubert was surrounded by science. Her parents and brother worked with computers, while her sister became a doctor.

Her personal interest was nutrition, and she earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition at Texas Women’s University in Denton.

While she was volunteering for a course requirement, she realized interacting with the public was what she found most rewarding. Besides the soup kitchen, she put on a camp for local children, educating them about the importance of developing healthy eating habits and exercising.

She also marketed a 5K race. It served multiple health goals, promoting physical fitness while providing a donation to a local food bank through the proceeds, she says. “I was helping our community and others while bringing people together for an activity.”

Public Health in a Pandemic

When Aubert graduated in the spring of 2020, the country and the world were in the midst of a massive public health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic had shut down in-person college classes. If Aubert wanted to pursue an MPH, she would have to do it online.

She evaluated three colleges with online public health programs and selected the University of Nevada, Reno. Part of the attraction, she says, was that the program offered many of the advantages of in-person learning. “I felt that I wasn’t missing out,” she says.

Every class was a group project. Most of her classmates were in other states, but they interacted as though they were in the same room.

“We had phone calls and Zoom calls,“ she says. “Even though I was in Texas and other people were in California or Wisconsin, we were always able to make sure that everyone felt included.”

When Aubert had difficulties, she could book a personal session with a student support coach. The coach would talk her through studying for finals or refer her to resources in the library, which she could access remotely at any time, day or night.

Most valuable of all, she found, was that her classes addressed practical problems. In one project, her class prepared a PowerPoint presentation about emergency response to wildfires. The slides covered what resources to have on hand, whom to talk to and courses of action for various situations.

Preparing for Natural Disasters

The MPH program included three semesters of field studies. The final one placed Aubert in an internship close to home: with the health department in the northeast Texas city of Tyler. Her job was to create a natural disaster toolkit for public health officials in rural towns.

The motivation was a disaster that struck just miles from where Aubert grew up. In 2017, seven tornadoes hit the town of Canton, and the town found itself short of resources for recovery.

“The point was to provide officials with the training and the capability to prepare for natural disasters before the impact hits,” she says.

The core process was a rapid assessment of community needs. Using a template from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health workers would gather key data while interviewing various stakeholders, from doctors and government officials to average citizens.

Aubert presented four trainings in four different parts of the state, each of which faced very different kinds of natural disasters. “When we were in Amarillo we would emphasize tornadoes,” she says. “When we were in McAllen, in South Texas, we would emphasize flooding.”

Health in Her Home Community

The program was so well received that, in 2022, after Aubert earned her MPH, the Tyler health department offered her a job. Today, she administers grants to address a timely public health problem: COVID-19.

She communicates with and educates the public about health precautions, such as getting booster shots and the importance of hand-washing.

Although many people still need reminding, she says, their overall awareness of how to stay healthy is much higher than it was before the pandemic. So is her community’s interest in the work she does.

“It used to be that public health was perceived as keeping your water safe, and it wasn’t that big a deal,” she says. “Now, it’s a hot topic. It’s a conversation starter when you say you work at the health department.”

Explore Opportunities in Public Health

Dealing with crises from pandemics to natural disasters, public health professionals have never faced a wider range of issues. A program like the online Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice at the University of Nevada, Reno can equip students with the skills and expertise to help address these issues and keep their communities healthy.

Learn more about how the program can lead to a rewarding career, taking on the public health challenges of today and tomorrow.

Recommended Readings

Leadership in Public Health: 3 Challenges and Opportunities

Understanding Public Health Jobs

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